New Zealand closer to changing law forcing domestic abuse victims to stay married for two years

New Zealand is now one step closer to changing a law that forces victims to stay married to abusive partners for two years.

On Wednesday night, the Family Proceedings Amendment bill unanimously passed its first reading in Parliament. It proposes changes that will allow victims of domestic abuse to fast-track divorce precedents. 

The bill was spearheaded by domestic abuse survivor Ashley Jones who has been fighting for changes in the Divorce Laws for the past three years.

Jones bravely left an abusive marriage at the start of 2020 but it was just the beginning of her gruelling fight to break her ties with her ex-husband.

At present, married or civil union partners have to be officially separated for at least two years before either party can apply for a divorce, formally known as a dissolution. The law has been in place since 1981.

"Finally, at the two-year mark, I could apply for that divorce. I had counted down that day, I took a day off work, I filled out my papers and I went to that courthouse," Jones told co-host Laura Tupou on AM.

But her divorce papers were declined because she didn't know where her ex-husband was.

"That was the start of a nine-month battle to get my divorce after waiting two years. That was two years [and] nine months far too long for someone that's experienced abuse," she said.

It inspired her petition to Parliament that was later signed by thousands of Kiwis to stop the agonising wait for abuse victims.

"Abuse is founded on power and control and the current system allows the abuser to continue that power," Jones said.

She said being stuck in the marriage brings risks of further financial and emotional abuse, as well as prevents the victim from moving on and rebuilding their lives. 

"We as a country pride ourselves on being anti-domestic violence, yet I feel our laws are allowing it. We care about mental health, but being stuck in this state of limbo is damaging mine. Other countries have made change; it's our turn now," Jones' petition stated.

Ashley Jones has been fighting for changes in the Divorce Laws for the past three years.
Ashley Jones has been fighting for changes in the Divorce Laws for the past three years. Photo credit: AM

Labour list MP Angie Warren-Clark presented the bill to Parliament on Wednesday while reflecting on her own experience growing up in a home where family violence was present.

The bill will allow people to apply for an order to immediately dissolve their marriage or civil union if they've been the victim of family violence inflicted by the other partner in that relationship. The victim will need to provide a copy of a court's decision to make or register a protection order under the Family Violence Act 2018 or the Sentencing Act 2002, or a copy of the order itself. This is to demonstrate the family violence has occurred.

Jones, who is now divorced, said she is thankful the bill will help others.

"For me, the biggest part about this is I knew that I could change it for myself but if my story and my experience… can make it better for everyone after me then that's what this is about," Jones said.

"I just hope that for everyone out there that's going through it or been through it they now don't feel alone and they now don't feel ashamed to share their story and own their truth."